Speech just wants to be free – III

picture-1.pngThere have been two developments today. First, I discovered that not only is there to be a debate between Bertie Ahern and Enda Kenny on Thursday night, there is also to be one among the leaders of the next four parties on Wednesday. From RTÉ’s website:

The RTÉ television debate among leaders of the smaller parties has been announced.

Labour, the Greens, the Progressive Democrats and Sinn Féin will debate their issues on RTÉ One at 9:30pm on 16 May.

Just in case it wasn’t clear, the logic of making the coverage of the Prime Time debate between Bertie Ahern and Enda Kenny on Thursday available to be shared and reused online applies equally to this debate on Wednesday. As a consequence, I emailed RTÉ making it clear that my request extended to both debates, and I wrote to the leaders of these parties (pdf here), asking for their support for this initiative.

Second, in a formal response from RTÉ to my initiative, early this afternon, Peter Feeney emailed me as follows:

Further to your request that RTÉ waives its copyright to the debates between the party leaders due to take place on Wednesday and Thursday RTÉ has decided not to agree to your request. We believe that by making the debates available on the rte.ie web site anyone who wishes to analysis or review the debates is fully facilitated. The view has been taken that it would not be prudent for RTÉ to waive its rights to the migration of the debates to other sites.

This is, to say the least, disappointing. As a public service broadcaster which describes itself on its website as “Ireland’s cross-media leaderâ€?, and with a professional as well as a philosophical commitment to the system of freedom of expression and democratic participation in Ireland, this seemed to me to be a natural and necessary step for RTÉ to take. Of course, much of the re-use of the content would have been next to useless, or worse; but some of would have been invaluable; and it would all have be online for everyone find, and read or not, as we wish. Moreover, such re-use is democracy in action: the essence of freedom of expression in a democratic society is that unfettered discussion of political matters makes for informed and engaged citizens who can properly hold governments to account. Now, however, because RTÉ have declined to permit the sharing and re-use of coverage of next Wednesday’s and Thursday’s debates, significant portions of online political commentary about the most important pieces of political television during this election campaign will either be illegal or simply will not happen. Either way, we will all be the poorer for that.

But there is still time for RTÉ to change their minds. So, please feel free

  • to sign the petition,
  • to email, phone or fax Labour, the PDs, the Greens and Sinn Féin on this issue,
  • to spread the good word about this, especially to the ‘old’ media, and among politicians, and
  • to help out in any other way that you can.

Remember, speech just wants to be free!